Thursday, December 30, 2021

The traditional new year's eve trip ...

Last day of the year here at the leading edge of the time zones. Although in many respects it is just another day, I am feeling the weight of the year sitting heavily on me. Why does it do this? For me personally it wasn't a bad year at all and I have good things on the horizon. And yet new year's eve just always does a number on my thinking - stoopid tradition. It demands I assess my 'this year' behaviour and begs of me what changes I intend to make for the 'coming year', and what my goals and ambitions are. It's all nonsense but I fell in to the trap and have kind of done it anyway. So here are my goals and hoped for improvements ... 

1. I have some picture books contracted to come out in the next few years and for the first time in decades I am easing back on the picture book writing. And I want to fill the gap with other kinds of writing. I have managed to chuck up some mental barriers for myself with longer form writing and I need to find the means to scale/overcome/clamber over those barriers. I may need a little bit of magic to make this happen. I want to push the envelope ... 

2. I intend to do less magical thinking. You know, the kind of thinking where we believe if we stay in the living room watching that important rugby final on TV, our team will lose, so we go and read a book in the bedroom. Or the thinking where we are sure if we tell someone our book is going to the acquisitions committee it'll jinx the outcome so we tell no one. If I don't do this, then that will/won't happen. There is no actual logic to it and yet we find ourselves wearing our lucky socks for far too long and wondering what else we were 'meant' to do/wear/conceal when we don't get the outcome we wanted. This is the kind of magic I don't need in my life so I am going to be challenging this thinking anytime it steps forward in my mind. 

3. I want to learn more of Te Reo

4. I'm going to work up criteria for things I should say 'no' to. I don't think it'll be a big list of things and nothing may qualify for a 'no' in 2022, but if I put down in writing what I really don't want to do, it'll be there when I need it. That thinking that we should do something that scares us everyday is great for pushing us past our comfort zones but it takes a lot of energy and strength to exist outside our comfort zones and there are definitely limits we should apply to this thinking, because while it's great to do new things, too much stress and adrenaline will wear you down.  And when you are thinking 'no' and someone tells you to feel the fear and do it anyway, turn the question back on them and ask them what they have done recently that pushed them out of their comfort zone to assess whether they belong to the school of 'take my advice I'm not using it'.

5. And I need to stop thinking I have to decide any goals or improvements on new year's eve. So I will also be making plans to fill up December 31st 2022 with activities that make this kind of thinking near impossible. This could be fun ...  

... so better living everyone. Have a safe and happy new year's eve, and I wish you all the good things in 2022 xxx

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A pox on doubt and associated festive witterings ...

I'm not sure what to write. It's been such an odd year - odd bad and yet also odd good. And I've been feeling odd about it all.

I've been talking a lot to people about their own picture book writing over the course of the year. Picture book writing mates, folk who came to me with manuscripts for assessment, and students on my picture book writing courses. I always urge people to read the type of story they want to write. To look for the books they love the most and interrogate them as to why they appeal, to take those qualities and characteristics and practise them and use them in their own writing. We often say 'writing is hard' and it is. You have to learn the craft, understand the rules of your chosen form, and learn how to see what sets the best ones apart. It can be difficult to push through when a story your brain tells you is locked inside that marble you are chiseling away at refuses to appear. The chisels can feel blunt, the marble impenetrable. And all you can do is keep chipping away and apply a lot of hope. 

And yet I have written some of my favourite sentences by letting go. I gave my mind permission to play, to float free of everything that's come before, the rules and the conventional expectations. Like stepping into a jolly boat on a fast flowing river and getting rid of the oars. Where will the flow take you? Who knows? But it promises adventure. Luckily if you're writing a picture book the worst thing that'll happen is that the story is a mess. You're unlikely to get too wet. And sometimes the mess can be tidied by reapplying the rules and conventions and turn out to be rather charming. And sometimes the river ride brings you to a surprising new destination you never knew existed. Let your mind go and see where it takes you ...

... and if you are grappling with some things remember:

1. Fears are a straight jacket. And our minds tend to exaggerate their size. When it comes to writing, don't let them tell you what to do (or not do!). I mean, what's the worst that can happen? (we are writers not Bear Grylls facing death from dehydration if we don't drink our own wees). Rejection is a stepping stone not a brick wall at the end of a blind alley.

2. A pox on doubt. Every writer feels it and I think it's one of the most duplicitous emotions. Honestly, what does doubt know? It isn't getting some special inside scoop from all the publishers or reviewers or readers! It loves to show you the worst take by one person and pretend that that is the consensus but it's wrong. Seriously - it doesn't have a clue - don't treat it like it does.

3. If you are still not writing because covid and all its associated baggage did a number on your creative thinking, do something writing-adjacent. Keep a diary, write letters to people, read indulgently, binge watch a good tv series and think about how you might improve the plot or dialogue or a particular character. Because when you do feel like it again this will all help. And in the meantime call it research and pat yourself on the back for doing a lot of it. 

4. It's best to focus on the good writerly things that have happened to you, rather than the good things that have happened to other writers. There will always be people doing better than us. Just like there will always be people who aren't doing as well as we are. Its not a race even if it likes to give us that impression. It's messing with you  - that way lies madness. 

I wish you all a safe and happy summer and the hope that whatever you want for your writing, you achieve it in the coming year. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.